This past June, I had the honor of meeting Kurt Westergaard at his sunny, art-filled home in Denmark -- make that, his sunny, art-filled, state-security-services-hardened home in Denmark. In addition to being an unbowed advocate for free speech, Kurt, along with his wife, are gracious hosts, and they served my IFPS colleagues and me a traditional Danish feast. We spoke, among other things, about Kurt's then upcoming trip to the United States, now in full swing. Indeed, he should have just about arrived at Yale now to give a talk, after appeances yesterday in Manhattan and at Princeton.
In today's Daily Princetonian, Kurt has an op-ed called "Why I Drew the Cartoon," explaining how an assignment from his editor at Jyllands-Posten to draw his impression of Mohammed turned into a world-shaking event that revealed the extent to which Western society is in thrall to Islamic law. It ends with a line we should all learn to needlepoint onto pillows: "I would draw it again given the chance."
From the Daily Princetonian account of yesterday's appearance:
"You have the right to speak. You have the right to vote. You have the right to demonstrate," Westergaard told the audience. "But there is one right you do not have, and this is the right not to be offended."
Though the cartoons were published four years ago, Westergaard said his home is still an "electronic fortress" and that he is still escorted to work by police. Public Safety, the Mercer County sheriff's office and the Princeton Township police department were all involved in providing security at Wednesday's panel.
The 74-year-old Westergaard said the cartoons "have been the catalyst in a necessary process," forcing people around the world to confront the issue of free speech. He also compared Islamic extremism to other ideologies such as fascism and communism, calling all three ideologies forms of fanaticism.
"Like communism had its commissars, Islam has its imams," he said.
Westergaard also explained that, initially, he did not foresee the international crisis that his cartoon would spark.
"It took about two hours [to draw]," he said. "For me, it was nothing very special. It was just another day at the office."
Lars Hedegaard, president of the International Free Press Society, spoke before Westergaard and emphasized the importance of free speech both in Denmark and in the rest of the world, calling the right to criticize religion "fundamental."
Hedegaard praised the refusal of Westergaard and then-Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to apologize for the cartoons, saying that doing so "would be tantamount to accepting that Islam is a sort of uber-religion, something that holds sway over everything else in our society."
Coordinator for Muslim Life Sohaib Sultan followed Westergaard's remarks.
Like communism had its commisars, Islam also has its Coordinators for Muslim Life.
Sultan criticized Westergaard's depiction of Muhammad as an abuse of free speech akin to Holocaust denial.
Look how Sultan trots out Holocaust denial (which, moronic and malevolent as it is, should not be outlawed) to suppress any and all criticism of Islam and/or Mohammed, whose depictiion by Westergaard, by the way, perfectly illustrates super-imam Sheik Qaradawi's description of Mohammed as "an epitome for religious warriors."
The full Qaradawi quotation is: "Allah has also made the Prophet Muhammad into an epitome for religious warriors [Mujahideen] since he ordered Muhammed to fight for religion."
The story continues:
"[Westergaard] said that he is angry because, one, he felt threatened, and two, he was wrongly depicted," Sultan said. "But the irony of this is that this is what he has done to the Muslim community with his cartoons."
Sorry, bub. Death threats, boycotts, assassination plots, embassy, car and flag burnings, security-for-life, etc., do not equal a sketch on a sheet of newsprint. But look where we are: The artist's pen has not proved to be mightier than the death threats, boycotts, assassination plots, embassy, car and flag burnings, security-for-life, as least as far as influencing the course of events in the four years since Kurt Westergaard's and the other artists' cartoons first appeared. This week I have been contacted to answer questions about Kurt's trip by reporters from the New York Times, the Associated Press, Fox News, and others and when I have asked reporters whether they wll be illustrating their stories with a picture of Kurt's cartoon, I hear a pause, nervous laughter and a pass-the-buck "I'll have to ask my editor." So where does that leave us?
Four years ago, it was a few Danish journalists who shined a light on the conflict between sharia and free speech. And today it is a few Danish journalists who shine a light on the conflict between sharia and free speech. Will any American journalists do more than pass the buck?